WHMJ “Wim” van der Horst ‘59, or “Captain,” as he likes to be called, has lived a good life in America, achieving success, friendships, and good times. From engineer to car dealer to hot air balloonist, he credits Kettering University as being largely responsible for his achieving the American dream. Reflective of his gratitude, van der Horst has been a steadfast donor and recently shared that he has made a gift to the University in his Trust.
Van der Horst was born in 1929 in the Netherlands. The Depression cut through his childhood and was only a prelude to troubles to come in World War II and the Nazi invasion of his country. For most of the wartime occupation, he was not directly affected until the winter of 1944-45, which van der Horst referred to as the “Forgotten Winter,” when food was scarce.
Around this same time, a relative of his mother reached out to her. The relative had moved to America and offered to help van der Horst’s mother by bringing one of her sons here. Although the family intended for van der Horst’s brother to go, the brother had already planned to join the Dutch Army. So, Wim van der Horst set sail for America and landed in New York.
As he was getting settled, van der Horst joined a local club. The club’s president, Bill Roorda ‘49, took a shine to him and after getting to know him, suggested he become an engineer. Van der Horst took the advice to heart and applied to Roorda’s alma mater, General Motors Institute (GMI).
“Because the Korean War was on and I was not yet a citizen, I was not accepted,” van der Horst said.
Instead, he joined the U.S. Army and worked in military intelligence. He received his citizenship in 1953 and was discharged from the Army in 1955. That same year, he was finally accepted at GMI and began studying chemical engineering. His co-op experience was at Chevrolet Frame and Stamping, and he graduated in 1960.
Early in his GMI experience, he started GM Overseas Operations (GMOO), an international club for foreignborn students. For many years, van der Horst’s home was the unofficial “headquarters” for GMOO. While not specifically part of GMI, GMOO was a notable part of van der Horst’s college days and helped shape his life. Some GMI/Kettering alumni who were members of GMOO still maintain this special common thread.
Through GMOO, van der Horst met interesting people from around the world. Similar, in general, to GMI/Kettering alumni, the GMOO members formed lasting friendships. Over the years, many have traveled all over the world to stay connected, participating in one another’s family events and offering support in times of need. The camaraderie has always been meaningful.
Following van der Horst’s University days, he worked as a full-time engineer for GM, before eventually switching over to the sales side of things and launching the first Porsche dealership in Grand Blanc. The “car” side was where he was most comfortable as he describes himself as an avid “car nut.” The Dutchman was owner, salesman, mechanic, bookkeeper, and custodian, all wrapped up in one. In time, he added Toyotas to the dealership as their popularity increased. During the 1970s, he acquired a Mazda franchise and a Subaru franchise. Van der Horst found success and enjoyment as a car dealer.
An interest of van der Horst which soon became a hobby and later a business is hot air ballooning. His preference for being called “Captain” comes from his passion for setting the course and speed of hot air balloons, based on the wind and air currents. He has flown across the United States, as well as in England, Belgium, and Holland.
With appreciation for the positive trajectory GMI gave his life, van der Horst purposefully and proudly supports the University. His desire is to increase this support beyond financial giving. He hopes to encourage all alumni to be ambassadors for the University, spreading the good news of its success, and leaving their own legacy of gratitude by including the University in their estate plans.
“All in all, I sing the praises of Kettering/GMI wherever I can,” he said. “The experience I had with the University shaped my life, and I am forever grateful for the opportunity.”